Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: Delhi 101 - A witty guide to the city I love.

There are a hundred and one travel books on the stands that will tell you a hundred and one things to do while you're in Delhi. Now I haven't seen all of Delhi or read many such books, but just enough to be able to serve as a pretty good city guide myself. And I keep traveling around, poking my nose into unseen areas and reading more and more about the city I love - the one place in the world that I can call home.

Now if you're into the detailed history of everything that makes Delhi unique and intriguing, from its ancient structures to the mysteries contained in its shady, crowded alleyways, William Dalrymple's your man. But if you're looking for a quick guide to some fun and useful things to do in and around the city while on a visit, Delhi 101 by Ajay Jain is the book to bury your nose into.


I laid my hands upon this book some time ago, and having already met the author a couple of times at social dos, I was more than eager to give it a thorough read. And boy, it took me more time than a novel twice its size would usually take. I happily lapped up every word, every anecdote, every detail and the story behind every picture the author's been generous enough to throw in on every page of the book. Without being partial to the author or doing him any favor whatsoever in saying so, the book was indeed a delight to read.

For without trying too hard, Delhi 101 manages to amaze you with ingenious ideas on how to spend some enjoyable time in the ever-on-the-move, crowded city that our Delhi is. To a traveler it serves as a basic guide to everything that usually defines a city - from the most ancient of its forts, baolis (public baths), mosques and structures to the swankiest and cheapest of markets, most popular food joints and various entertainment options. But that isn't all, because then it takes another step forward. To prove its uniqueness, this book also gives you a good glimpse into the 'real' Delhi. It takes you through the bylanes of Old Delhi inhabited by ear-cleaners, prostitutes, pehelwaan-turned-medical practitioners, decades old dilapidated-yet-running cinema halls and gives eye witness accounts of events and sights that make Delhi come alive, like the reverberating weekly Qawwaali nights held in Chandni Chowk, hitherto unknown even to the seasoned Delhiite. I have a strong feeling the author has a thing for Old Delhi, because a major part of the book hovers in and around that area. But no doubt, that's where the true culture and old world charm of Delhi lies, so no qualms.

And then there's a surprise part hidden in the package - the author's sense of humor. He has interspersed drab details with such interesting anecdotes and one-liners that the otherwise boring parts also seem to come to life. Given that it is an illustrated guide, the pictures have a language of their own and lend a great appeal to the text. See for yourself!




















Well, there, you got a glimpse of the kind of stuff the author has put into those 150 pages. Ajay Jain is a well known traveler whose favorite activity is to hit the road with an SUV full of necessities and travel the length and breadth of India, even overseas wherever possible. He has written a number of travel books and other titles in addition to maintaining a travel blog and a one-of-its-kind travel cafe called Kunzum Travel Cafe in Hauz Khas Village, about which I've written earlier.

This book, in the author's own words, is an incomplete guide to Delhi. Because the city is so varied in its essence and culture, that to describe everything in one finite volume is practically impossible. It however gives you a more or less accurate low down on the best places to buy stuff or to satiate your gastronomical urges in the city, along with insider tips wherever necessary, making it a helpful aid for a foreigner stepping out of doors to explore Delhi in all its true colors. In any case, an average traveler can hardly complete more than half the tasks suggested in the book in one, sometimes even two visits here. So for a first or a second timer in Delhi, Delhi 101 should definitely be a fun travel partner. At the same time it is a must read for every Delhiite, for what's the point of traveling far and wide if you don't know what lies within your own city?

On the downside however, the prices, timings and other trivial facts and figures mentioned in the book could well do with a revising in subsequent editions, as it must've been written years back and the figures have drastically changed since long. I cannot say any more for the risk of revealing more than I should. I shall thus conclude the review by giving the book a good 4 stars out of 5. Why don't you go out and buy a copy for yourself, and indulge in the sheer pleasure of surfing though the pages of Delhi's colorful past and present?
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